This blog post is crossposted from the Nacelle Games blog.
Every year since our inception, Nacelle Games has gone to the East Coast Game Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. This year even though we were bringing two demos to the conference, we decided against getting a booth; there were just too many fantastic sessions to go to, and we felt we could do demos in between sessions, as we talked to other developers.
To this end, we even printed small signs to attach to our bags, which said “Ask Me For A Demo!!” The signs had our company logo and website, and the logos for our two demos: “The Island”, a VR adventure game for Samsung Gear VR, built in Unreal Engine 4; and “Level-UP”, accounting software for game developers.
But something unexpected happened when we arrived at the conference the afternoon of the first day (which was a half day). We were telling our demoing plan to a fellow developer who had a large booth; and they offered to let us borrow a corner of their booth for an hour or two during lunch, if we wanted to show off our demos on the Expo Floor the next two days. We leapt at the chance to be able to get our demos in front of even more people then we were expecting.
We decided to focus primarily on our Gear VR game “The Island,” as we wanted to get as much feedback on the game as possible, and we thought getting people to play it on the Expo Floor would be a great way to get a lot of feedback. But we had a problem; how do we broadcast that we’re showing a game at the booth, and how do we show gameplay to people passing by the booth?
Unlike other virtual reality devices, the Gear VR is self-contained, so there isn’t a PC doing the rendering which could also display a live feed of the game on a monitor; instead all of the rendering is done on a Galaxy S6 smartphone, which is snapped into the Gear VR headset. We didn’t (and still don’t) have a workflow for capturing video of any kind directly from the Gear VR, much less a live feed of someone playing our game.
So we fell back on what we knew, and decided to just record some gameplay footage directly out of the Unreal Engine 4 Editor. We edited the footage into a short gameplay video we could show on a monitor at the booth, and just looped the video continuously. We felt the video was a little rough, but given the short turnaround time, we had to go with it. We just hoped it would turn out ok; and to our amazement it wasn’t just ok, but surpassed all of our expectations!
I’ve embedded the video below so you can watch it; this is the exact video we showed at the conference. The video is just under 2 minutes long, opens with an animated version of our company logo, shows about 90 seconds of gameplay starting at the beginning of our demo, and then ends with the game’s logo. We set the video to loop at the booth, so it was playing continuously during demoing.
The video doesn’t have any audio; this is because the screen capture software we had access to at the conference doesn’t capture audio. We weren’t concerned with that though, because the Expo Floor was so noisy you wouldn’t the able to hear it anyway.
The video looks simple, and outright plain. But it worked greatly to our advantage, and we believe was a key aide in getting many more people to play our game then we would have if we didn’t have the video. We recommend anyone showing a Gear VR game to create a similar video. Let us tell you what it did for us.
First, the video did what we expected it to do, which was to broadcast to people passing by the booth that we were showing a game. Several people passing by the booth stopped to watch the video.
Second, it allowed us to segue nicely into talking about “The Island” to anyone who stopped to watch the video. We told them it was a VR adventure game, and asked if they wanted to play an early demo of the game.
But the amazing thing was when someone had the Gear VR on and was playing the game; then the video took on a whole other paradigm. Whenever someone came up to the booth while someone was playing our game, they would assume the video they were watching was of live gameplay. Every single person who watched the video during another player’s play session told us they thought the video was of live gameplay. Every. Single. Person.
The illusion only lasted for about 30 seconds or so; up until either the video looped or the person watching the video noticed the camera movements on the screen didn’t exactly match the head movements of the person playing the game. But it worked long enough to get someone invested in the current player’s play session, have an immediate connection and understanding of how the game was played, and build anticipation of what the experience of playing the game would be like. And most importantly, it got them interested in wanting to try out our game.
We believe there were a few things that helped cause the illusion of the video being live gameplay:
First, the video starts where our demo starts, and only shows what is in our demo. Second, when recording the video, we tried to move the camera in a way that would be a rough approximation of what it might look like if someone was looking around with their head. Even though we were using a mouse to control the camera in the Editor, we tried to do long, slow, sweeping looks, so it appeared to be more natural. Doing this caused the camera movement in the video to tend to match, or at least be a close approximation of, a player’s head movements when playing the game.
Also, it just so happened that our demo’s playtime was about 3 to 4 minutes in length; which is about long enough for the video to loop only once. This limited the number of times the illusion of live gameplay was broken by seeing the video loop.
When we show “The Island” in the future, ideally we would like to have a solution for actually showing live gameplay from the Gear VR. It will more then likely involve a networking solution, where we have a client copy of the game running on a PC that is either spectating the game session on the Gear VR, or is being remotely controlled remotely by it. Whichever way we end up doing it, it’s still something that will take time to develop; and it wasn’t a solution we had time to implement while at the conference.
But when we were in a pinch, this short gameplay video worked wonders for us. It broadcasted to people passing by the booth that we were showing a game; it allowed us to segue nicely into talking about “The Island” to anyone who stopped to watch the video; and it provided enough of an illusion that people assumed they were watching live gameplay. And we feel all of these things lead to us having more people play our game then we would have if we didn’t have the video.
If you can’t show a live gameplay feed of your Gear VR game, we highly recommend creating a short gameplay video that starts at the beginning of your demo, and lasts between 1 and 2 times the length of your average play session. Then you can enjoy the same benefits we received from our video, and hopefully get more people to play your game. We hope this helps another developer show of their game(s) for Gear VR at their next conference.